Dangerous Liaisons

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English title of Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 French epistolary novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses. It was quite popular ("between 16 and 20 editions were dated 1782") during the author's lifetime because it was so scandalous, but tended to be condemned or supressed for a long time afterward because of the immoral behavior of its characters. In the 20th century it regained popularity, and Christopher Hampton adapted the novel into a play in 1985. It has been made into a movie four times -- as well as a 1980 Slovak TV movie (Nebezpecné známosti), an opera by composer Conrad Susa and librettist Philip Littell; a ballet choreographed by David Nixon to various works of Antonio Vivaldi, and even a manga by Higuri You, "Kamen no Romanesque" (Romanesque Mask).

Warning: don't read further if you don't want to know how the book ends! No matter what the setting or the characters' names in the adaptations, the plot remains essentially the same as that of the book: the Marquise de Merteuil and her lover the Vicomte de Valmont play games about who can seduce people of their acquaintance. Merteuil asks Valmont if he will seduce Cecile Volanges, the innocent young fiancee of a man who has wronged her. Valmont agrees to do so, but doesn't see it as much of a challenge; he has his sights set on the virtuous Madame de Tourvel, whom no one thinks could be seduced. Merteuil occupies her time with seducing Monsieur Danceny, who is in love with Cecile Volanges himself, and the two schemers pretend to be helping Cecile and Danceny exchange correspondance.

Cecile doesn't turn out to be a difficult conquest, despite the mistrust her mother feels for Valmont. Mme. Tourvel has also been warned by Mme. Volanges about Valmont's bad reputation, but gradually Valmont's appearance of sincere love wins her over. Eventually, though, Merteuil realizes that Valmont does not just appear to love Mme. Tourvel, and manipulates him into breaking up with her, a breakup which devastates them both. Danceny finds out that Valmont has been having an affair with Cecile and challenges Valmont to a duel; Valmont is killed, but as he lies dying he gives Danceny the letters Merteuil has sent him, which prove her part in all the events. Merteuil is cast out of the society which formerly accepted her as a moral woman.

Sources (other than having read the book):

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